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Ever Shrinking Wilderness

OK, one of GG’s favorite sports is spotting the New York Times engaging in “wow, stuff in the west is different” writing that often contains generalities or mislocations that reflect the general ignorance of the paper’s staff with the west (like here and here). A new article is sort of along these lines; it recounts the pressures on search-and-rescue teams in the west due to naive, ignorant, or bullheaded urbanites & suburbanites escaping all the rules of pandemic America for the freedom of the wilderness. Except, unsurprisingly, that many of them have no idea what going into the wilderness entails.

So what makes the story worthy of commentary? Well, first off, this is not remotely a new trend. From the moment cell service extended into any wild area, people have been calling for help, many of them demonstrating their ignorance. GG has brought this up a few times (like here and here and here). Search and rescue teams in Boulder are pretty much out at least once a week and often daily doing everything from getting an untrained climber down off a local flatiron to searching for somebody who wandered into the wilderness on a whim to rescuing fallen and injured climbers. Even more remote areas like around Silverton in southwest Colorado get to deal with the occasional dimwit driving their SUV across the tundra to the edge of a cliff where they get stuck (for some reason, these are usually Texans). This is common enough that GG has run into search and rescue folks while out recreating on his own. Rocky Mountain National Park, being very popular with people from flat places, is practically a training ground for search and rescue; the level of ignorance of some visitors can be breathtaking (for instance, the family that decided to cut down a tree in their illegal campsite by a very popular lake IN A NATIONAL PARK). Is it worse in the pandemic? Well, gosh, yes. Maybe this all looks new to folks in Pinedale, Wyoming, where the focus of the Times’s story is, but it surely isn’t to folks in the Sierra Nevada or most of Colorado.

So this story follows in the footsteps of so many in making something that has been going on for a long time into something dramatically changed; how much of that exaggeration is ignorance of the reporter or a calculated decision to reflect the likely views of the readers is unclear. The other thing it does is make it sound like the Wind Rivers are Xanadu or some lost continent only now being discovered–which may well be true for New York Times reporters and readers, but isn’t for millions of folks in the West. From reading this, you’d think this was the most isolated spot possible and no it is gone–GONE, I tell you! Um, well, compared to nearby Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park (both places where the search and rescue teams keep busy), yeah, the Winds are less hammered, but they are far from the last place some quotes would have you believe (GG can think of a half dozen places far less known, far less visited than the Winds, and he bets most westerners can do the same).

Now to be fair, the article does point out a big problem: search and rescue is a volunteer job. But then, too, in much of the rural west, so is firefighting (wonder if the Times will discover that soon); some of GG’s colleagues are volunteer firefighters. And if it was just locals being rescued–folks who knew their way around and had the bad luck to break a bone, get struck by lightning or get stuck behind a suddenly swollen stream–volunteers would be enough. But the influx of the woefully unprepared–and this story has a nice selection to choose from–has already stressed more popular parts of the West. Will some places decide to dedicate some of their motel taxes to rescuing visitors? It does seem like this might be a good idea. But is this purely a new thing brought on by COVD-19? Well, no.

Panoramania 6: Death Valley

A 2015 panorama from Aguereberry Point in the Panamint Range over Death VAlley

vr url=https://grumpygeophysicist.files.wordpress.com/2020/04/aguerberrypt2015sphpano.jpg view=360

A zoomable version is here. Starting from the nearby point above the camera and going left, Telescope Peak is just visible over a nearer part of the crest of the Panamint Range. Then the dipping layered sediments of the late Precambrian and early Cambrian are prominent in the foreground with Death Valley between the Panamints and the Black Mountains. In the far distance down Death Valley are the Avawatz Mountains on the skyline and the eastern Owlshead Mountains somewhat closer. On the skyline beyond the northern end of the Black Mountains and the southern end of the Funeral Mountains are the Spring Mountains (Mt. Charleston being the high point). The drainage between the Blacks and Funerals is Furnace Creek, which enters Death Valley farther left at the park headquarters and major hub of the park in the green patch of Furnace Creek. Farther left on the skyline are the high plateaus of the Nevada Test Site, including Pahute Mesa. Farther left the Grapevine Mountains define the east side of northern Death Valley before being obscured by nearby Tucki Mountain. Farther left are the Cottonwood Mountains and Hunter Mountain and left of the nearby student, peaks of the Sierra Nevada rise beyond the Harrisburg Flat area and Pinto Peak before we turn back to Aguereberry Point once more.

Panoramania 5: Bernese Alps

A panorama from the ridgeline north of Grosse Scheidegg near Grindelwald, Switzerland

Will make a zoomable version elsewhere before too long. The huge pyramid in the center of the view initially is the north face of the Wetterhorn (the visible summit might be the Scheideggwetterhorn). Grosse Scheidegg sits at the base of the little green triangle directly below the Wetterhorn. To the right, the next major ridgeline is the north ridge of the Schreckhorn (one visible summit is Mättenberg, and Kleines Schreckhorn is just visible over a notch on the flank of Wetterhorn), and then the next ridge down is capped by the Eiger, which is partially shrouded by clouds. Grindelwald sits in the valley below the Eiger. The next major summit to the left of the Wetterhorn is the Wellhorn. Far down valley to the left (east) are a pair of prominent summits, Wendenstöke and Titlis, which is above Engelberg. In the opposite direction from the Wetterhorn rises the bare summit of Schwarzhorn, part of the ridgeline that towers over Lake Brienz to the north.

Geologically, this region encompasses the contrast between the high crystalline rocks of the Air massif to the south and the sedimentary rocks of the valley and ridges to the north. This juxtaposition reflects the emplacement of the Helvetic nappes. The front of the ranges seen here are dominantly limestones of those nappes with some of the interior peaks being granites and gneisses of the Aar massif.

Panoramania 4: Torrey’s Peak

From the second highest 14er on the Continental Divide…

Zoomable version here. Prominent peak with Continental Divide Trail switchbacking up is Grays Peak, the highest peak on the Continental Divide in the conterminous U.S.; this is just east of south. To the right is the Chihuahua Creek drainage, which feeds into Peru Creek, which drains into the Snake River which in turn heads to the Blue River, which is impounded in Dillon Reservior, somewhat farther to the right beyond and between Lenawee Mountain (in sun) and Grizzly Peak (in shade). The Arapahoe Basin ski area is hidden behind these peaks; Keystone’s runs are just beyond Lenawee Mtn. The Breckinridge Ski Area is visible in the range beyond Lenawee Mtn; it is in the Tenmile Range. To the left of that ski area is Quandary Peak (with several faint snow stripes dropping from left to right on its northern flank); fourteeneers Mts Lincoln and Bross of the Mosquito Range (which is really the continuation of the Tenmile Range) are farther to the left of Quandary. In the far distance above Dillon Reservior is the Holy Cross Range. Farther right, over the left edge of Dillon Reservior and beyond the town of Frisco, is Tenmile Canyon, separating the Tenmile Range to the south from the Gore Range to the right (Mount of the Holy Cross is above and left of Tenmile Canyon but isn’t distinct in these images). Buffalo Mountain is the prominent mass just south (left) of a major glacial canyon trending towards us (this is nearly due west). Views farther to the northwest towards the northern Gore Range are over the Williams Fork Range. Farther right in the distance are shadowy outlines of the Park Range and, possibly, the Rawah (Medicine Bow) Mountains beyond North Park. Snowy and rugged peaks above the freeway interchange are the Indian Peaks part of the Front Range; Longs Peak (left) and Mt. Meeker (right) are outlined on the horizon. Farther right (east) is green-shouldered Kelso Mountain in the foreground, with the Stevens Creek drainage to the right below broad McClellan Mountain (due east) and, to the right, sharper Mt. Edwards. On the skyline beyond and just right of Mt. Edwards are fourteeneers Mt. Evans (left) and Mt. Bierstadt (right). Pikes Peak is barely visible in the haze farther right (a little to the left of Grays Peak).

(Note there is no single point to see this well in all directions; views from three sides of the peak are merged here). 28 July 2014.

Panorama Cheats

Just a quick note about some of the panoramas GG has been piling up (for instance, part 4, up shortly). Strictly speaking, they are cheats.

How so? Many mountain peaks have a broad enough summit that you cannot really see everything from the top. You have to wander towards an edge and peer down one way and then wander to another edge and peer down another and so on. And, as the instructions for image merging usually state, you don’t want to be trying to combine images from different positions. In fact, you usually want to be working off a tripod at one spot where you can position the camera so there is no parallax at all.

So what is the trick to making a panorama that includes views from multiple positions? Mainly it is recognizing that you need to minimize foregrounds and minimize parallax. How might you do this?

Read More…

Panoramania 3: Pinchot Pass

The view from Pinchot Pass in the Sierra Nevada (experiment with 360 view).

A more directly interactive version (zoomable) is here.

Read More…

Panoramania 2: Key Summit, New Zealand

Key Summit at dawn, on the Routeburn Track, Fiordland National Park, South Island, New Zealand. A more manueverable version is here.

Panoramania 1: Toroweap

OK, there are lots of things I’d like to be doing, one being getting outside. Well, not going too well on that front, but having finished running a 5 day virtual field trip, we’ll try traveling differently.  GG has a lot of panoramas made over the years, so we’ll see if the tools in WordPress are up to the job. For many of  these I will also include a link to an online version that allows zooming in and out.

For starters, here is a panorama from the Toroweap viewpoint in Grand Canyon National Park…

Geotag, New Zealand edition

Awhile back we paid attention to the dispute over the way that selfies and Instagram were influencing the use of public lands. In the U.S., this came across as racist in some views as the “Public Lands Hate You” approach appeared to some to be designed to discourage people of color from venturing out of doors. (It didn’t help that the tone of responses was pretty in-your-face). As a result, discouraging geotagging is somewhat controversial in the U.S.

Which brings us to an article in Stuff.co.nz (a news aggregator) that is making exactly the same kinds of points, but within a Kiwi framework. Race is a far more distant factor (if one at all); the main target seems to be tourists (mainly from overseas).  And the antics are the same as in the U.S.: Sitting or standing in roads to mimic a photograph, trying to get to the exact same spot–the exact same rock for instance, and damaging natural values by hordes pounding into some previously rarely visited spot. The author makes some of the same suggestions (don’t share precise coordinates but substitute more vague locations, encourage followers to make their own discoveries).

There are three interesting aspects to this that set it apart from the U.S. example.  The first is that international tourism is really important in New Zealand–perhaps supporting nearly 10% of GDP. So saying “tourists are doing bad things” is a bit more risky than here. The second is that New Zealand does take damage to the environment seriously, for instance, they have clamped down on “freedom camping,” which allowed you to park your RV (campervan) anywhere for the night, because of continued abuse in the form of trash and more unpleasant refuse. So an actual government response isn’t implausible. The New Zealand Department of Conservation (DoC, roughly equivalent to the U.S. Park Service plus Forest Service) has a series of codes that include a rather formal adoption of Leave No Trace along with specific guidelines for many activities, including photography. The third is that it seems there isn’t the racial aspect that is present in the U.S. (nor, it would seem, the economic/influencer side as well).

Does this mean the U.S. version of pushback is then free of racial animus? Probably not, but it does indicate that it isn’t fair to claim that all who discourage geotagging are racist.

Will this trend blow over? Hard to say; people have been taking vacation photos for a long time, and most include some family member or friend to show that this photo isn’t just a stock photo. As we noted before, in a lot of places this really doesn’t matter much: a geotag from Yosemite’s Tunnel View or in front of Old Faithful isn’t going to do much damage. But places that are fragile and unknown are indeed at risk, as the Kiwis are finding out, as are followers seeking risky photos; whether “responsible geotagging” becomes a thing remains to be seen.

Whither Monuments

Its been awhile since President Trump signed orders to reduce the size of both Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument; GG passes through those lands from time to time and was curious where things stand.  The answer, not too shockingly, is that this revision is still in the courts.  Bears Ears lawsuits have been merged into one and a request from the administration to dismiss the suits failed in early October.  Meanwhile, a trove of Triassic fossils has been found in part of Bears Ears that was removed from the national monument. Meanwhile, and rather to everybody’s surprise, oil and gas leases adjacent to the monument were snapped up at auction despite an NPS official’s concerns. Whether these leases go anywhere remains to be seen…

Grand Staircase-Escalante is in much the same boat. Excluded lands have indications of major fossil localities as well.

Odds are that this battle will not end soon.  Probably the soonest possible end would be if a Democrat wins the presidency in 2020 and, shortly after inauguration, redesignates the two monuments at their original scale. This might end the court cases, depriving us of learning what rules govern presidents in changing these areas. While redrawing the boundaries of a national monument are somewhere in the range of rare to unprecedented, what in general is the fate of controversial national monuments?

Pretty good, actually. Grand Canyon National Monument came about after efforts to make it a park failed repeatedly due to vocal opposition. Jackson Hole National Monument resulted from Rockefeller’s subterfuge in purchasing land for a park as locals were opposed to transfer of lands in the valley to the government. In fact, some 27 national parks were originally national monuments, several of which were locally quite unpopular at the time they were created. Among these are such well-known parks as Death Valley, Joshua Tree, Petrified Forest, and Bryce Canyon.

Whether or not the president can reduce a monument on his own remains to be seen (National monuments have been deauthorized by Congress). Obviously the ultimate protection is a national park (though those, too, can be changed or even eliminated); in a way, it is a bit of a surprise that there hasn’t been more of a push on that front to make these two controversial units into parks. (The closest seems to be bills introduced by Utah legislators formalizing the smaller monuments as parks, though neither bill went anywhere despite concerns that increased visitation has elevated risks to archeological and fossil resources in the area).